God on the 50 Yard Line

Newsweek/August 17, 1998
By Beth Dickey

The National Football League has learned that when it comes to players' off-field activities, there is no such thing as good news.

Like its pro brethren, the NFL has suffered through a spate of embarrassing incidents, including drug and alcohol abuse, serial paternity suits, and assaults on women. Which goes a long way to explaining why NFL teams can be hypersensitive to even the appearance of improprieties.

Which still doesn't explain why the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars have asked the league to look into its players' ties to-warning, the following may be unsuitable for young readers-a group of Christians.

Though neither the league nor the teams will officially confirm it (and Jacksonville denies making any request), the NFL is checking out Champions for Christ (CFC), a 13-year-old Austin, Texas, church group that ministers to athletes.

The CFC advocates a devout Christian lifestyle, including abstinence from alcohol. It has close ties to a number of prominent players, including Jacksonville's star quarterback, Mark Brunell, and its Pro Bowl tackle, Tony Boselli, as well as Chicago's top draft pick, Penn State running back Curtis Enis.

"Love to see 'em, love to meet 'em," says CFC founder Greg Ball of the NFL. "But I think the last thing the NFL wants to do is go investigating ministries - and especially one that is this clean."

The concerns with CFC are, naturally, less about God than about money. The Bears apparently weren't too worried when they made Enis the fifth pick in the entire draft, despite the fact that he was kicked off his college team for illegally accepting a $1000 suite from an agent and lying about it. Enis was also recently accused of sexual assault; he denies the charge, and Dallas prosecutors say the case is likely to be dropped for lack of evidence.

But it was when Enis found God and the CFC that things got complicated. He dumped his agent mid-negotiation with Chicago and turned matters over to a new adviser, who is a longtime friend and occasional business associate of the CFC's Ball.

Many of the charges about an unholy alliance emanate from Team Sports in Dallas, Enis's previous rep. One Team Sports agent, Bill Blakeley, said that in dismissing his old agents, Enis called them "heathens', "We mothered him and we did everything in the world to help, and all of a sudden we're a bunch of sinners," said Blakeley. "I'm concerned for Curt and for any player involved in this group."

Ball says he conducts his ministry exclusively for athletes because of their power as role models. But he denies exerting any excessive control over Enis-"ludicrous.an absolute joke"-or the financial affairs of his flock. He points out that NBA veteran A. C. Green, a CFC vice president, has a Jewish agent.

Several NFL members insist the CFC has no financial requirements. But they say they voluntarily tithe, "I've never been asked by anyone at Champions for money," says Boselli. "I give because I want to."

The CFC players concede that there may be some discomfort with their fervor among teammates.

Brunell says he made a mistake when he slipped notices of a prayer meeting into the lockers of all his teammates. "I didn't mean to offend anybody," he said. "But if someone cusses and parties, I don't have any problem."

The Bears, though, now have a problem with their running game. Negotiations with Enis have stalled over several matters, including questions he reportedly raised about playing on Sunday. Enis told NEWSWEEK the CFC is "a positive thing in my life," adding, "The Lord is really testing me."

In the meantime, the Bears last week signed veteran running back Barn Morris, who served time in prison for marijuana possession and has twice been suspended by the NFL for substance-abuse violations. Nobody seemed too concerned about that.

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